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Monika Fitts

Professor Flores

English 123

15 October 17

The War on Drugs

Today, the United States is home to 25% of the worlds prison population (Haney

Lopez 1029). Ever since the declaration of the war on drugs in 1971, incarceration rates have

risen and they are continuing to do so. While some people are knowledgeable about this war and

its negative effects, others are oblivious to what the impacts of this war on drugs really are. This

essay will argue that in order to fix the issues caused by the U.S war on drugs, the billions of

dollars allotted to fund the drug war should be reallocated to the restoration of minority

communities. As a result, this essay will go into more detail of the war on drugs, review its

historical timeline and its impacts, while also advocating the need to restore minority

communities and end the U.S. war on drugs.

The Current Problem

The mass incarceration of minorities and the effects of the war on drugs is a huge

problem that many people are oblivious to. According to the Bureau of Justice, the current

population of those who are under penal control is more than 7 million. Out of the 7 million

people, 36% of those who are behind bars are minorities! (Giorgi 1) This paragraph will talk

about the current problems caused particularly by the war on drugs and it role that it played

throughout minority communities. One problem caused by the drug war, is racial inequality.
According to Carol S. Steiker, a Harvard law school criminal justice professor, the United

States has the highest incarceration rate in the world and the incarceration rate of a black male is

higher than a white man before the civil rights movement (Steiker 1). Back in the 60s when the

media wasnt broadcasting news and current events on flat screen tvs and smartphones, people

had little to no way of conducting research on incarceration rates, they just knew that people

were being terrorized and thrown in jail for nonviolent crimes. In the present-day, information is

available to everyone at the convenience of their fingertips. The information and statistics from

the drug war validate that in these 50 years of fighting against drugs, the actuality of the war is

that it fights against minorities. In the book The New Jim Crow, prestigious civil rights lawyer

and activist, Michelle Alexander argues that today, it is perfectly legal to discriminate against

people of color. In fact, once you are convicted of a felony, discrimination is a predominant

effect. As a criminal, the eligibility to receive public housing, public benefits, certain jobs and to

vote in certain states is taken away (Alexander 2). According to a study conducted by Matthew

Durose an analyst from the Bureau of Justice, the deprivation of not having a place to live, a job,

a say in political matters, and a loss of public benefits leads to a vicious jail cycle. More than half

of the prisoners incarcerated for a nonviolent drug crime were shown to return back to prison

within a five-year span (Durose 1). Because it is so hard to get a job after being labeled a felon,

people revert to the street life and the jail cycle continues because the underlying problem has

not been confronted. According to an article written by Jamie Fellner and published by the

Stanford Law and Policy Review, the disproportionate numbers accumulated in relation to

minority arrests and incarcerations may not be important to the relatively untouched white

supporters, but those who are aware of militarization tactics used by officers, discriminatory

practices and cruel intentions of the war on drugs, it is clear to see that in the age of Obama,
racism is not gone. As a matter of fact, racism is still veritable and that is what fuels equality

activists. Another relevant problem that has risen as an effect of the war on drugs are economic

difficulties. While some thought that the prohibition laws came without a price tag, the

illegalization of drugs cost taxpayers the increase of taxes and a decrease of liberty. According to

Drug Policy Alliance, Federal and state governments have wasted over a trillion dollars of

taxpayers money. With that being said, whether or not you are in support of the drug war, tax

payers are the primary source of funds. This example is not used to inspire you to stop paying

taxes; it is used to open your eyes to the information that is available if you look for it.

According to David Kopel author of a Harvard Law School academic journal, as taxes and

federal spending continue to rise, America falls deeper into debt. It is apparent to see that the

federal government needs to reduce spending before the United States economy is driven into a

deep recession (543). While spending and taxes have increased, the demand for drugs in the

United States has remained constant and the problems that Nixon originally intended to solve

have morphed into more problems. According to an article written by the highly accredited non-

profit group known as the Prison Policy Initiative, this mass incarceration epidemic shows that

prior to incarceration, the average median income for a person who is in jail is $15,109 and the

typical bail bond is $10,000. With incarceration rates rising, people are less than likely to scrape

up a big chunk of money at the drop of a dime, especially in a poor area. According to

Bernadette Rauby a senior Prison Policy Initiative analyst and Daniel Koph an economics

reporter, both editors have proved that over population in our prison systems are leading to an

endless cycle of jail time and poverty. Whether or not a persons bond is more or less than

$10,000, the system is set up so that it fails, the ability to pay a bond is impossible for many,

especially minorities living below the poverty line before incarceration (Rauby and Koph 1).
The research conducted by the Prison Policy affirms that if this vigorous jail time and poverty

cycle is not broken, then the problem of mass incarceration will remain current.

History of the War on Drugs

Problems caused by the war on drugs did not happen overnight. In order for the current

problems to make sense, you must know what started the war on drugs and what events escalated

its prominence. This paragraph will go through the events in chronological order and elaborate

on why the war on drugs is a failure to the United States. In the book The New Jim Crow written

by Michelle Alexander, she uses the story of Jarvious Cotton to introduce the war on drugs. Like

his father, grandfather, great-grandfather, and great-great grandfather, Jarvious Cotton has been

denied the freedom to vote due to limitations that minorities face. Cottons story illustrates that

new tactics have trickled down throughout each generation that are in support of racial exclusion

and discrimination (Alexander 1). According to the previously mentioned article entitled, A

Brief History of the Drug War written by the Drug Policy Alliance, the first anti-opium laws

were directed at the Chinese in the 1870s and the first-anti marijuana laws in the 1910s and 20s

were directed at Latinos. Thus indeed proving that drug policies didnt have much to do with the

risks associated with drugs, they have everything to do with who is associated with them. Flash

forward to the Civil Rights Movements in the 1960s, during this time minorities were battling for

their freedom and were striving for equality. According to Lori Martin and Kenneth Varner, the

Fair Housing act was passed in 1968. The intention of this act was to stop segregation, but during

that same year, Richard Nixon was running for president. According to previously mentioned

Haney Lopez, Nixon established the Southern Strategy. Nixons strategy was based on the

linkages between racial conflict and enforcing law and order. The strategy was used to get votes

from the majority which were southern whites (1026). In 1969 when Nixon became President, he
proclaimed that the usage of drugs was a serious national threat to the United States and

promised that he would fix it. Within a span of two years, he recognized the usage of drugs as

public enemy No. 1 and on June 18th 1971, a war on drugs was officially declared. The start of

this drug war began in a time when the usage of drugs began to decrease and the fight for

equality amongst African Americans began to increase. With the up rise of the war on drugs,

minority communities yet again became a direct target. According to James Kilgore, a well-

known civil rights author and activist, as a result of Nixons crooked political strategy, the

administration began to release footage taken from poor neighborhoods in an attempt to make

society believe that the typical drug user/dealer was a minority. As the footage shown gained

publicity, the war on drugs gained more funding. According to a special series article titled,

Timeline: Americas war on drugs, The Drug Enforcement Administration better known as the

DEA, was created in 1972 to control all drug efforts. The establishment of enforcement agencies

led to suspicion less police sweeps, asset seizures and mass incarcerations. In a law review

written by University of Chicago scholars, Eric Blumenson and Eva Nilsen, Congress passed a

bill in 1984, that allowed federal law enforcement agencies to retain and use the proceeds from

asset forfeitures. In a study conducted by the Byrne grant program, they found that task forces

had seized over one billion dollars in assets between 1988 and 1992 (66). Although that sounds

like a big number, reports by show that the United States government

spends roughly 36 billion dollars to fund the war and 80 billion dollars to keep criminals

behind bars. It is apparent to see that what these forfeiture laws do well, is raise money. In fact,

during the year of 1994, $730 million dollars were seized and rewarded to police and

government officials in appreciation for their efforts (Blumenson and Nilsen 51-56). Reverting

back to Michelle Alexander, the war on drugs has become institutionalized. It is no longer a
special program or a policized project; it is simply the way things are done (84). While some

thought the war on drugs would supersede, Alexander, just like many others knew that wouldnt

be the case. A 2009 report breaking down the population of those who are either in prison, on

parole or probation due to the rise of incarceration rates during this war on drugs shows that

there are one in eleven African Americans and one in forty-five whites in our highly

disproportionate system (Haney Lopez 1025). Drug use and the sale of drugs has no color,

regardless of if you are white, black, yellow, purple, etc. As long as person has the money to buy

drugs, they will use them. With that being said, why is it that one-eleven African Americans are

behind bars when it is clear to see that Whites use drugs too? Instead of targeting a certain race,

we must figure out a way to stop the war on drugs from remaining a current problem. According

to the previously mentioned James Kilgore, On May 25, 2014, the editors of the New York

Times, summarized Americas experiment in mass incarceration as a moral, legal, social and

economic disaster. They also went on to say that the war is a target mission against minorities

which in turn is leading to overpopulation in our prison systems and that it cannot end soon

enough (Kilgore 219).

Solution to end the War on Drugs

The great Grace Speare once said, "Welcome every problem as an opportunity. Each

moment is the great challenge, the best thing that ever happened to you. The more difficult the

problem, the greater the challenge in working it out." This quote is acknowledged because the

problem of the war on drugs is an opportunity to correct this failed system. This paragraph will

introduce three different solutions that all share the same goal of ending the mass incarceration

epidemic. While recognizing that the war on drugs didnt pop up overnight, it is guaranteed that

this epidemic will not be solved overnight.

One solution to the end of this war on drugs is to simply legalize the use of drugs in the

United States. According to the article written by, the legalization of Marijuana would

offer the U.S. a boost in revenue, law enforcement would have more time and money to go after

violent criminals and it would offer more personal freedoms (Nyln 1). Although this may seem

like a great idea to some, An academic journal written by Thomas J. Scorza and Ronica Roth,

states that there are about as many Americans in favor of banning Mother's Day as there are in

favor of legalizing the use of narcotics. While previously mentioned David Kopes argues that

drug offenses drive prison growth and the legalization of drugs would be a good thing coming

from an economic standpoint (545). The legalization of drugs wouldnt be the best solution to the

end of the war on drugs because there would be more drug induced deaths, more drugs would

arise and instead of pinpointing what the real problem is the human element wouldnt be

considered and chances are, this solution will lead to an even bigger problem.

Another solution to an end to this problem is through a social movement, in which

society will have to join together and embark on a journey amongst activists and rally and/or

reach out to congress whether it be with a call or a letter in hopes that it will attract their

attention. According to one of Steikers students, Professor Seidman argues that there is a cycle

of crime and punishment in the black community that is an overwhelming evil. Together we

must reevaluate our structure and work towards revolutionizing our countrys forms of

punishment. In the history section of this text, The Civil Rights Movement has been discussed.

The importance of this movement compares and contrasts the power of coming together as one

and standing up for your beliefs. During the 1950s segregation was legal. After people joined

together against segregation and discrimination, laws were passed in 1968 that restricted

segregation from being legal. With the use of technology and the media, it should not be hard
for activists to educate themselves, assemble rallies and reach out to members of congress in

hopes that it will change current laws and end the war on drugs. Although this is a great way to

end the war on drugs, social movements can lead to opposition, violence, and more ignorance.

For instance, according to Katie Mettler a Washington Post Journalist, very well-known group

known as Black Lives Matter are currently being sued for claims that incite that the movement

rallys for brutality against police, but the leaders of this group just want to raise awareness to

innocent lives being lost due to police brutality. Although unity is an important element for

ending the war on drugs, a fear with this method is that it will lead to more brutality and


The most advocated solution to this problem, that will show the most change amongst our

society is to reallocate the money that is being spent on funding our prisons and change the way

minorities and poor neighborhoods are perceived. According to Kayla Martensen, the war on

drugs put poor uneducated, African Americans under radar. By revolutionizing whats foreseen

as a poor neighborhood, the government can restore poor neighborhoods and educate people to

do better not only for themselves but for their community. According to Traci Burch, a

Northwestern University scholar, the war on drugs has contributed to an increase of crime in

troubled neighborhoods and poor family structures (Burch 717). This text explains that when

someone is locked up, it is not only the person that has to suffer, their families take a dramatic

economic, mental and physical hit. If fathers and mothers were given the ability to receive a

second chance, then there would be fewer struggling families, higher employment rates and a

less crowded prison system. While some agree that this is the best solution, Ruth Wilson

Gilmore argues that the cost of mass incarceration will not save money and we will never win

the freedom struggle (Kilgore 225). In support of ending the war on drugs, eleven states
launched a Justice Reinvestment Initiative in 2005. The effects of substance abuse programs,

educational programs and reentry programs proved that community efforts reduce prison growth

and lead to other successes (Kilgore 225).

In conclusion to this problem addressed in the first paragraph of this review, the United

States should resist the urge to let history repeat itself. Back in the 1970s when the war on drugs

emerged, law enforcers did all that they could to get a person, specifically a minority behind

bars. It is a fact that the stereotypes that were painted of African Americans have shown an

impact on incarceration rates back then and still continue to do so. This review also addresses the

abundance of money the government spends funding this war and the effect of overpopulation in

our prison system. In the book, Hole in our Gospel written by Richard Stearns, he references a

passage from Isaiah 58. The reference of breaking every yoke suggests that any system, law or

practice that is unjust must be broken (56). The United States is still a long way away from

achieving total equality and a discrimination-less prison system, but in an attempt to achieve

equality amongst the citizens of the United States and move forward with reforms, we must raise

awareness and reallocate some of the billions of dollars that is budgeted solely for the war on

drugs. By launching reformative programs, they will enable the United States to give citizens

knowledge, guidance and a skillset that will allow them to be a positive contribute to society. It

is no secret that God does not demand perfection from a person, he knows that things in life go

wrong. What God asks of his followers is that they all turn to him and trust that everything

happens for a reason. God is aware that this world is not pure, there is hatred and there is

discrimination. By giving people the opportunity to redeem themselves, break chains and prove

stereotypes wrong, this will help increase the quality of life and reduce the current mass

incarceration problem while also igniting faith.

Proverbs 22:2 Rich and poor have this in common: The LORD is the Maker of them all.
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